Europe: A History Critical Essays

Norman Davies


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

EUROPE: A HISTORY is the latest work by Norman Davies, professor of history at the University of London and the author of a highly praised two-volume history of Poland, GOD’S PLAYGROUND (1981). In a volume of more than 1,300 pages, Davies intentionally includes considerable information on eastern Europe, which he contends is largely lacking in most European histories, which have a bias towards emphasizing western Europe as the only Europe of significance.

In addition to restoring the balance of European history by including the east, Davies defends the study of Europe’s history as an important subject in itself. Although he agrees that Eurocentrism—the belief that European civilization is the apogee of everything of consequence—is invalid, he argues that in spite of the claims of some current advocates of political correctness, Europe has been the primary contributor to American society, and the literary and philosophical works of those dead, white, European males found on the lists of great books are still paramount.

EUROPE is traditionally organized, presented chronologically in twelve long chapters. Davies concludes each chapter by focusing on a specific event, or set-piece, which can be said to sum up the chapter’s material. Such set-pieces include the dedication of Constantinople, the new eastern Rome, in A.D. 326, the premier of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI in Prague in 1787, and British Foreign Office on the eve of World War I. In addition, there are about three hundred “Capsules” which discuss a wide variety of subjects in a few paragraphs, including the origins of “Jeans,” “Brie,” “Condoms,” “Leper,” “Dollar,” “Sonata,” and “Syphilus.”

Because of the subject and its scope, many of the events discussed could easily be expanded, and unfortunately there are occasional factual errors, but Davies writes well, with wit and verve, and in spite of its length—and weight—EUROPE can be rewarding reading.

Sources for Further Study

The Economist. CCCXLI, November 16, 1996, p. 3.

The Guardian. October 17, 1996, II, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times. January 17, 1997, p. E2.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, December 1, 1996, p. 15.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, August 26, 1996, p. 83.

The Times Literary Supplement. December 20, 1996, p. 3.

The Wall Street Journal. November 18, 1996, p. A10.